One Voice: Khalid Kamau

One Voice: Khalid Kamau

I have only once in my life knocked on a neighbor's door to borrow eggs, or anything else, ever again.

Khalid Kamau
New York, NY
United States

I remember once when I was young, I came home after school and baked a cake for dinner, to surprise my mother, who worked a full-time job as a Clinic Manager before her "second shift" as Mom.

We had run out of eggs, which I didn't discover until after I emptied the cake mix into the bowl. Then I remembered the stories my mom and aunts used to tell about growing up in the rural, segregated South. Though Jim Crow Blacks suffered severe institutional oppression, their communities were strong, and neighbors were always helping one another out. "People we come over to ask for a cup of sugar or a loaf of bread," they would wistfulyl recount "And if you had it, you gave it."

So I went across the street to Mrs. Jesse, our retired neighbor across the street who kept and eye on my brother and I for those few hours between 3 and 6pm when we were left to our own devices. A gentle grandmother in her 60s, I was sure she'd have some eggs, and fondly recall this tradition of sharing.

And she did. I got my two eggs and baked a cake. When I presented the cake to my mother, I proudly told her of my efforts and resourcefulness. The glow on her face from good deeds quickly faded when I got to the part about borrowing the eggs.

She called my father to the kitchen, and together the scolded me about going around the neighborhood "begging for food."

"But I thought that's what you guys did in the olden days?" and pleaded.

"That was a long time ago." My mother retorted.

I have only once in my life knocked on a neighbor's door to borrow eggs, or anything else, ever again. It appears that in today's culture, "strong" communities are those where estranged neighbors live on 'islands' of manincured, McMansions in gated exurbs, and have no "need" for one another; where sharing is an act of last resort for the truly destitute, not a practice of healthy community builing.

About the Project

Over the past several months, we've been exploring the spiritual and moral aspects of the economic downturn and flaws that have been exposed in financial systems. Online and on air, we've generated a challenging, edifying, cross-cultural conversation called Repossessing Virtue. We continue to look for fresh thinking and language for talking about what has happened and why — not just in terms of financial tools and strategies but in terms of personal conscience and values. We're looking for practical resources for individual and communal evaluation and renewal, moving forward from this crisis. In exploring the moral, spiritual, and practical aspects of the economic downturn, we've asked past guests, listeners, and other familiar voices for their wisdom and insight about the changing economic climate.

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